Members of the proposed Housing Bank MV hosted a forum at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Performing Arts Center to describe to the public why they believe the future of the Island relies on providing affordable year-round housing.
West Tisbury town moderator Dan Waters moderated the meeting, while members of the Housing Bank MV committee Peter Temple, Doug Ruskin, and Makenzie Brookes broke the presentation into segments and screened questions at the end.
Hundreds of people showed up to ask questions and voice their opinions, including town administrators, selectmen, schoolteachers, and members of the public who have faced the housing tribulations that living in this community presents.
State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, kicked off the forum by speaking about the current state of housing on Martha’s Vineyard, and how the Massachusetts Legislature can only act after hearing significant support from the entire Island. “We want to take action, but we can only do that if we know that it’s an action that is supported by the entire Vineyard community,” Fernandes said.
“We live in a profoundly unaffordable district,” Fernandes said. “That is because people trying to buy a home here are competing in an international market of homebuyers, a lot of whom have unlimited financial resources.”
Fernandes said there are several components that the Cape and Islands legislative delegation have been working on to address affordable housing. The three central elements he noted regarding housing were zoning, wastewater, and funding.
He explained how an upcoming zoning reform initiative at the state level will allow (and in some cases, require) higher-density zoning in certain areas. “To have higher density, you allow for more units, you allow for smaller spaces for workers, or for seniors who want to downgrade their home,” Fernandes said. “When you think about the really marketable, attractive areas in our community, the majority of them are denser areas.”
Fernandes referred to downtown Oak Bluffs and downtown Nantucket, where there is a much higher population density.
But he said in order to have more housing units, you need to first address the issue of wastewater infrastructure. “One of the things we did as a Cape delegation this session is pass the Cape and Islands Water Protection Fund, which has a 2.7 percent excise charge on all short-term rentals,” Fernandes said. “Towns would be able to apply for projects that cost money to that fund.”
This means the Housing Bank would be able to use money from the fund for various projects involving wastewater.
Fernandes said Vineyard towns are able to opt in or out of the protection fund, but if seasonal visitors aren’t paying the excise tax, there are going to be additional property tax increases and abatements put on year-round residents.
“Our water quality is the most important natural resource on the Vineyard,” Fernandes said.
Although only three Island towns are required to pass the proposed Housing Bank at town meeting (and again as a ballot question), Fernandes said it is going to take the entire Island to make it work.
The other piece Fernandes highlighted was the affordability of housing on the Vineyard. He said last session the state passed a $1.8 million bond bill to go toward affordable housing in the state, but that is just “a drop in the bucket” when looking at the housing needs across the commonwealth.
Before leaving to catch his boat, Fernandes pointed to his Island liaison, Kaylea Moore.
He said she is exemplifies the highly experienced and capable person who still can’t afford housing, despite her level of education. “Kaylea is a great example of this housing crisis. She has lived in four different towns trying to find housing, doing the Island shuffle,” Fernandes said. “This is someone who has a master’s degree on-Island and can’t find dependable housing.”
Ruskin took the stage next, and told a story of when he came to the Island in 2001. “You could look in the paper and see the number of year-round rentals available in the classifieds. Today they’re not there,” Ruskin said.
Ruskin said if the housing crisis is not addressed, it could “shred the social and economic sustainability” of Martha’s Vineyard.
Because of the unaffordability of Island housing, Ruskin said many of the nurses, teachers, and tradespeople who support the community are living off-Island and contributing to another economy than the one here. “All these people walk off the boat every morning, then they leave at the end of the day, and they take their income home with them,” Ruskin said. “That’s a lot of money that is not being spent in our economy.”
He said elders are being forced to move off-Island, entry-level positions are being left vacant, and fewer people are applying to be first responders. “So this is now a safety issue,” Ruskin said. “Today we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to affect real change.”
Ruskin reminded the audience of the two warrant articles involved with the Housing Bank.
The first one is to create the bank, and the other proposes its funding source, which would take from the newly expanded short-term rental tax.
Peter Temple gave his presentation after Ruskin, talking about an Islandwide housing plan to create 294 new housing units in five years. To meet this goal, Temple said the Island would have to have an additional $8 million every year.
The next speaker was Makenzie Brookes, who went over the “nuts and bolts” of the warrant articles themselves.
She explained how the Housing Bank was modeled roughly after the Land Bank, and has an Islandwide focus, but local control.
She said the Housing Bank would provide funding for deed-restricted, year-round homes.
This would include the purchase and rehabilitation of existing structures, construction of new rental or homeownership housing, pocket neighborhoods, multiunit infill housing, and other programs to create or preserve year-round housing.
During the question and answer portion of the event, Abigail Higgins of West Tisbury agreed that it is prohibitive for working families to move here with the current cost of housing, but said that it speaks to a larger issue of growth in our small community.
“We are in an environment that is negatively affected by growth,” Higgins said. “Growing the community in a finite entity, which the Island of Martha’s Vineyard is, is ultimately destructive to everything we know here.”
Temple responded to Higgins’ comment, saying the Island population is projected to grow only 12 percent going forward, whereas we were the fastest growing county in the state for the previous 2 decades. “Unfortunately, a large amount of that growth is the elderly population, not young people and adults.”
One large element he mentioned: If there aren’t young people moving here, there will be no one available to care for the increasing elder population
“Home health aides just don’t earn enough money to live here. Even people who work at Windemere are hired from elsewhere, and paid premiums to come work here,” Temple said. “I don’t see that building this housing is going to be the end to the Vineyard as we know it, I see it as being able to keep the Vineyard as we know it.”